Friday, June 5, 2009

The Senior Pastor - some first & second century evidence

We continue our pursuit to find arguments for the necessity of a senior pastor and quickly look at two early church fathers and their writings. 

Looking at first century writers, the writings of Ignatius of Antioch present a very strong argument for the presence of a monepiscopacy in the first century. As an example, Ignatius writes in his letter to the Ephesians, that being "subject to the bishop and the presbytery," was an essential characteristic to "be real saints."[1] Obviously, Ignatius' view of the bishop is that of a singular figure separate from the presbytery. While Baptists do not agree with this interpretation of Scripture, one has to admit that this could be seen as evidence that a traditional senior pastor type of office had developed in the early church; even though that is not the direction the early church followed. It could even be argued that much of what some associate as being the responsibility of the senior pastor was gleaned from the writings of Ignatius about the bishop: overseeing the Eucharist (Ignatius To the Smyrnaeans 8.1b, 2b), overseeing baptism (Ignatius To the Smyrnaeans 8.2b), and overseeing marriage (Ignatius To Polycarp5.2b).[2] While this is interesting and might give some insight on where the traditional senior pastor view might have originated, it only proves that the church moved in this direction in the first century, but cannot prove that this was God's plan for the church as laid out in Scripture.

Much has also been made of the fact that in the second century writings of Justin Martyr, Justin makes mention of a 'president of the brethren'[3] (singular) who officiates the administration of the Lord's Supper. The translation notes of the Anti-Nicene Fathers, though, suggest that "this expression may quite legitimately be translated: 'to the one of the brethren who was presiding.'"[4] This translation does not point to an office per se, as one would think when reading the title 'president of the brethren'. Therefore this person, whoever he was, was not necessarily the holder of a certain office and, as a matter of fact, did not necessarily have to be a fixed individual, but just the one who was presiding in that instance. This could allow for a first among equals type of figure, but does not necessitate it. More importantly, it reduces this evidence to a preference of translations and, while it can stimulate invigorating discussions, it does not prove the existence of a senior pastor office in the second century.

I am sure there is more first and second century evidence out there. Anyone?


[1] Ignatius of Antioch To the Ephesians 2.2b.

[2] Alan Knox suggests this as a possibility in Alan Knox, "Following Ignatius," The Assembling of the Church, entry posted October 1, 2008, (accessed January 28, 2009).

[3] Justin Martyr Apology 1.65, 67.

[4] Ibid.

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